Unit 1: Setting the Scene – Evolving and Underpinning Theoretical Perspectives

Section 1.1 Introduction

Earlier in this programme of study, you explored a range of theoretical perspectives on child development. Theory has moved from viewing a child as a blank slate, to viewing the child as an active agent in their own learning. We have also explored how these changes in our understanding impact on how we plan for and develop quality early years environments, and the experiences and interactions that occur there. Our individual philosophy about the child as learner also impacts on the way we approach, understand and develop curriculum in early learning settings. This module discusses understanding children’s early learning. Unit 1 focuses on theories of early learning that see the child as an active agent in their own learning, influenced by the contexts they inhabit; but equally, the child influences those contexts and the key actors with whom they interact.

Unit 1 sets out the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings for the units that follow. It introduces the New Sociology of Childhood as a response to the dominant theories based on developmental psychology that have and in many ways continue to inform early years practice. The unit briefly revisits socio-cultural and ecological theories and the children’s rights discourse, examining how these inform our approach to children’s early learning. It also explores Dewey’s educational theories as they relate to young children.

To close, the unit connects the ideas explored to the evolving early learning landscape in the Irish context. Learners are encouraged to develop their own philosophical understanding of children’s early learning, through this module, informed by the theories set out here in Unit 1, and the other concepts that they will explore through the following units.

Module Learning Outcomes Addressed in this Unit

  • Discuss the sociology of childhood as it relates to children’s early learning, constructing the child as an agent and catalyst in their own learning
  • Outline the emerging Irish approach to pedagogy and curriculum development, situating this within a contemporary international context
  • Discuss the concept of co-constructed knowledge, the role of collaboration with stakeholders and the place and various modes of reflection within this approach

Section 1.2 Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this unit, and the associated activities and readings, you should demonstrate the following learning outcomes:

  • Discuss the sociology of childhood as it relates to children’s early learning, constructing the child as an agent and catalyst in their own learning
  • Outline the shift from psychological perspectives as dominant in our understanding of children’s development towards sociological perspectives
  • Discuss a variety of theoretical positions which fall under an interpretivist perspective
  • Describe how a children’s rights perspective fits within the sociological understanding of childhood
  • Discuss how social-constructivist and sociological perspectives are increasingly informing the Irish Early Years sector

Section 1.3 The New Sociology of Childhood

The sociology of childhood is fairly recent. It emerged in the late 1970s/early 1980s, based mainly on the work of British and American sociologists, when sociologists also began to study other marginalised groups in society, such as women, minority ethnic groups, and those on the socio-economic margins. Social researchers began to challenge ‘positivist’ ideas as ‘taken for granted truths’ (Corsaro, 2018). Constructivist and interpretivist theories were emerging. These challenged biological interpretations as the accepted norms of social phenomena, offering socially constructed interpretations instead.

Reflective Point 1.1

In previous modules, you studied different social research methodologies. You compared the interpretivist and the positivist approaches to social research. A positivist approach is interested in finding out the ‘truth’ of a phenomenon, or the objective, broad story. An interpretivist approach recognises that we form our own subjective meanings about what happened. Thus there are many truths associated with a phenomenon.


1.3.1 Challenging the Developmental Perspective

The developmental perspective on childhood is based primarily on psychological theories about the ‘universal’ child. It assumes that all children progress through the same stages of development, with pre-set milestones. This approach takes no account of the child’s uniqueness, or the different experiences children have, which impact their development. According to Woodhead (2006) the developmental approach is based on ‘taken for granted truths’ (p. 17), with little regard for the child’s individual characteristics such as their dispositions, capacities and interests, their culture and ethnicity, gender and language, the context of their community and family, and their familial experiences. These are the multiple truths that inform our understanding, as practitioners working with children and families.

Moreover, the developmental perspective views children as passive and immature, with little ‘agency’ of their own (Brady et al., 2015). The role of those responsible for the child was to make sure they progressed in a ‘normal’ way towards maturity.

Learning Activity icon



Learning Activity 1.1

The Science of Early Development website features a 360° view of a children’s centre in Vancouver, Canada. This three-minute video captures a group of children deeply immersed in an activity that appears self-organised; while there are adults in the area, note how little the children require their support. Note the ‘agency’ on display here that supports the sociological perspective of a competent child, making meaning through their own experiences.


Focus on a particular child in the video. In 200 words outline how you feel she/he is demonstrating ‘agency’, is active and competent in driving her/his own learning.

1.3.2 Why the Sociological Approach? An Alternative Perspective

The sociology of childhood offered an alternative perspective to prevailing views on childhood, dominated by developmental theories. These were described as focused on an ‘objectification and future orientation’. In other words, the child was viewed as an object to understand, to mould and to raise, to bring successfully to adulthood. There was limited acceptance of the child’s own role in this process (James et al., 1998).

Through this course of study, or while working in the Early Years sector, you have probably heard the expression that we see the child as the being not the becoming. This is a critique of the notion of the passive child we are rushing to complete and pass on to adulthood. In contrast, the sociological perspective is more concerned with the child who is, the being: the active competent child, and their rich, lived daily experiences.

Being a child is a biological fact: the age of a person defines their place on a line that stretches from birth to adulthood. The developmental approach studied childhood as a biological fact through observation, testing, and measuring. This approach depicted the child as immature, physically, socially and in other ways, compared to adults (Neaum, 2016). But from a sociological perspective, we can view childhood as a socially constructed concept. By that we mean that the way we view and understand childhood is a result of how it is depicted, impacted, debated and generally accepted within a particular society. This will vary from one country/society to another (Brady et al., 2015). For example, in many developing societies nowadays, children are expected to work to help support the family. This limits their school time. Contrast this with most western societies, where childhood today is a time of freedom from stress and responsibilities. Understanding how childhood is socially constructed will support our understanding of a child who is shaped within that structure.

This is a shift from seeing childhood as merely a period to pass through, as a process, to seeing it as a significant and distinct time of life, as a structure within our social world. This position facilitates our view of children as a specific and unique group in society, with its own characteristics. As such, this group is affected by the structures and discourses of their own unique and varying contexts and of the social world which they inhabit. Understanding this perspective allows us to better understand children and to inform our work with them.

Reflective Point 1.2

Tir na n’Og preschool has a typical selection of activity areas, including block play, sand box, the art or creative corner, a dress-up area etc. Kate, Emma and Fatima are regulars in the dress-up area. Emma and Fatima take turns being the mammy but Kate always wants to be the ‘baby’. Jack likes to join this play and is frequently in the role of father, brother, or, if Kate will agree, twin baby. Jack also likes to cook and to mind Kate if he is being ‘daddy’. Oliver doesn’t like to join the dress-up and is sad when Jack does. He wants Jack to stay with him playing blocks and cars. He says dress-up is for girls. Fatima joins Oliver in the blocks so Jack can do the cooking and babyfeeding; at first Oliver is reluctant, but soon they are busy developing a rich narrative for their own play.

Oliver appears clear in his construction of gender, another sociological structure; he has a firm idea that certain roles are for girls and others for boys. Perhaps these roles are being rigidly performed in the other contexts Oliver inhabits?

Jack has a more flexible but equally clear interpretation of gender: his construction of

‘male’ has space for both caring and nurturing roles alongside the traditional ‘gendered boy play’. Fatima is equally flexible; she embodies her construction – or her own understanding – of how to perform ‘female’ in her varied play roles.

1.3.3 Sociology of Childhood: Key Concepts

According to Corsaro (2018) there are two key concepts that are central to understanding the new sociology of childhood.

First, children are active creative agents who produce their own unique children’s culture while simultaneously contributing to the production of adult societies’(p. 3).

If we visit Tir na n’Og preschool again, we can see this agency in action:

The group of children in the home corner are deep into their play; Jack is readying to take baby Kate and a doll in the doll buggy to the park while mommy Emma is at the shops. Carol, the room leader, announces it is outside play time; children need to tidy up their activities. Jack and Kate decide they want to take their ‘park’ play outside to the playground and Emma can ‘shop’ outside too. When Carol checks in on their tidy-up, they present their plan; with some negotiating, Carol agrees to their proposal. They present the materials they want to bring outside to support their play; again Carol agrees.

Reflective Point 1.3

Consider what ways agency has been demonstrated by the children; how have they ‘contributed to the production of adult societies’?

Second, childhood – that socially constructed period in which children live their lives – is a structural form (p.3).

To grasp the impact of this concept, consider other structural forms in sociology – gender (as we considered in Tir na n’Og), culture, status or class – these structures allow for greater understanding of those who inhabit these ‘forms’, how they impact on and are impacted by power within society. They also serve to inform the ‘discourses’ regarding the particular structure in society.

Consider for example how the discourse concerning young girls, play, science and domesticity has changed in western societies. The childhood of girls was previously a time in which they were socialised to take on the caring, domestic work, based in the home. In early years settings, like the one we visited earlier in this unit, girls could be seen playing out roles related to the family in the dress-up area or other ‘gender’ appropriate play, whereas boys may have been actively discouraged. Poor Jack!

Of the many changing discourses related to gender, we have witnessed an emerging discourse of females in STEM subjects, evidenced by universities hosting ‘women in engineering’ events for future students, parents as readily enrolling their girls as their boys in Coder Dojo clubs, and women now seen as economic providers alongside their role as carers and reproducers of family life. Boys and girls are now equally encouraged to play in the home corner, as the discourse concerning gender has expanded to include men in caring paternal roles in the home, alongside or in place of mothers.

The ‘structural forms’ of child, of mother, of male, are clarified by the discourses concerning them and these are informed by the evolving construction of these structural forms.

To further develop our understanding of these concepts, consider that as an individual, any child is only a temporary member of the category of ‘childhood’. Childhood as structure is a permanent form; membership is temporary. The child does not have to wait until they reach adulthood to be considered part of society – they are at all times members of that broader structure, while in childhood as much as when in adulthood. While childhood is a permanent structure, how we understand childhood varies historically and contextually, as does our understanding of those who inhabit this category. All structural categories are interrelated, influencing each other and informing the evolving discourses concerning them (Corsaro, 2018).

Reflective Point 1.4

What does this understanding of childhood, of structures and of discourse mean for your own practice with young children?

Learning Activity 1.2

The New Sociology of Childhood is founded on an extensive body of knowledge, theories and concepts, developed over centuries, that are the foundation of sociological thinking. While this literature is far too vast to be given a proper discussion in this module, reading more about these foundational ideas may support your ability to engage with this emerging sub-section: the new sociology of childhood.

Many online courses such as MOOCs, or encyclopaedia sites, have welldeveloped overviews of sociology as an academic discipline. Here is one example from the University of British Columbia, in Canada:


In your own time, explore the early development of and the key paradigms that make up contemporary sociological thinking.

1.3.4 ‘Post-Developmental’

Nolan & Kilderry (2010) use the phrase ‘post-developmental’ to describe the current period in which we are questioning the ‘taken for granted truths’ regarding children and childhood as presented by developmental psychology. Informed by the new sociology of childhood, there is increased awareness of the social and cultural impacts on a child, of their own individual stories, contexts and histories. However, they caution us too: exploring other ways of knowing, in terms of children and our work with them, need not mean we reject outright the theories and theorists which provided the foundation for contemporary early childhood education and care practice.

Similarly, Brady et al. (2015) warn us against focusing too much on the child as ‘Being’ versus ‘Becoming’. They argue that of course children are developing, just as adults are developing; we are all continually growing and changing. The issue, they suggest, was the unquestioned focus of developmental theory on the child as ‘becoming’ its later adult self, which failed to value or even recognise the rich period of childhood, in and of itself.

Dewey also pointed out that we are always learning and thus developing, that learning isn’t just for children. In your Year 1 work on reflection in practice, Dewey’s theories opened our exploration of experiential learning – for adults. So, as Early Years Practitioners, we can continue to develop, to become, as it were.

These examples highlight the importance of not trading one set of ‘truths’ for another, but the value in considering a range of perspectives, theories and paradigms, relevant to early years practice. Such an open mind will impact on the process of reflecting on our knowledges, skills and values, when we are working with children and families in Irish early years settings.

Section 1.4 Supporting and Complementary Theories and Concepts

This section gives a brief overview of a range of theories which underpin the new sociology of childhood.

1.4.1 Socio-Cultural Theories

Lev Vygotsky (1896 – 1934) was a pioneer theorist in the social model of childhood. Whereas both he and Piaget saw the child as actively engaged with their environment and believed this influenced their learning, Vygotsky further proposed that the social environment was equally influential. He considered that social interactions, relationships, language and dialogue were crucial in the development of a child’s cognitive skills (Neaum, 2016; Keenan et al., 2016).

From the perspective of socio-cultural theory, cognitive development – or simply, learning – occurs in social, collaborative experiences, alongside others, in contrast to a more traditional sense of learning happening through ‘teaching’ or the transmission of knowledge. This perspective stresses the need for interactions to be collaborative, to be purposeful and meaningful for the child (or learner) and to be reciprocal – there should be a back-and-forth interplay, sharing of ideas and mutual respect.

Review: Key terminology of socio-cultural theory

  • Vygotsky’s ‘Zone of Proximal Development’
  • Bruner’s related concept of ‘scaffolding’

Please revise the Year 1 and Year 2 modules on Child Development on socio-cultural theory, the key terms and concepts. Revisit also the accompanying textbook, Keenan et al. (2016).


Learning Activity IconLearning Activity 1.3

The ideas underpinning socio-cultural theory are captured in the concept of ‘Sustained-Shared-Thinking’ (SST) developed in the context of the EPPE study, or the Effective Provision of Preschool in Education study (Sylva et al., 2004). Follow the link below to the Early Years Foundation Stage Forum, to review guidance on how to develop SST in an ECEC practice setting (Brodie, 2014).

Note the commonalities between this practice and the concepts underpinning socio-cultural theory. Aim to identify four areas or actions that are influenced by this theory.


We will discuss Sustained Shared Thinking in more detail in Unit 4 of this module.

1.4.2 Ecological Theory

Uri Bronfenbrenner (1917 – 2005) was also critical of the research approach of developmental psychologists. He thought their research on young children was overly experimental and observation-based, devoid of context and lacking an understanding of children’s lived experiences. The prevailing approach was described as the testing of children in strange places, involving strange situations, and carried out by strangers. Bronfenbrenner developed an ‘ecological systems theory’ of childhood. He suggested that the various ‘ecologies’ of the child, or the contexts they inhabit, have a profound effect on their development and wellbeing. His theory also takes into account contexts in which the child may not directly interact, but which impact on them or on others relevant to the child. He also explored how the child impacted on various contexts, or systems, and the interplay between the systems themselves (Bronfenbrenner, 1981).

Over the years, this theory continued to evolve as aspects of it were tested for validity and gaps. The current version is called the Process-Person-Context-Time concept (PPCT) (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). These four aspects of the ‘bioecological model’ are briefly explained below.

Hayes et al. (2016) describe this ‘phase’ of ecological theory as exploring ‘how individual characteristics of the child alongside features of their context, both spatial and temporal, influence proximal processes’ (p. 22).

  • Process: Also referred to as ‘proximal processes’, this element of the model is concerned with the interactions, interrelationships, activities and behaviours that occur between a child and those around them. The qualities or characteristics of these processes are worthy of analysis. Children are seen to find meaning and make sense of their world through these proximal processes.
  • Person: This element is concerned with the characteristics of the child, including their dispositions, capabilities and interests; further, this element is also interested in how these impact on the interactions, or processes, involving or related to the child.
  • Context: This relates to the systems that the child is directly involved in and those that impact on the child, though they may have no direct involvement therein; the micro, meso, exo and macro systems of Bronfenbrenner’s original theory.
  • Time: This refers to the temporal element of the PPCT that was previously reflected in the Chronosystem; Hayes et al. (2017) note three aspects of ‘time’ relevant to our understanding of children’s development as being micro-time, time available in the moment, during particular activities; mesotime or the expected opportunities or periods in a child’s routine; and macro-time, or the historical period in which a particular child is living their life.


Revise your Year 1 and Year 2 modules on Child Development and explore ecological systems theory, the key terms and concepts. Use the accompanying textbook, Keenan et al. (2016) to support your revisions.


Learning Activity IconLearning Activity 1.4

For each aspect of the PPCT model outlined above, ask yourself: ‘How does this concept, or aspect within the bioecological theory, assist me to better understand the children and families I work with? Note one example for each element.


Learning Activity IconLearning Activity 1.5

Again, consider the four aspects of PPCT – how does this model reflect the new sociology of childhood? Again, note an example for each of the four elements.

For a more detailed account of this model see:

Hayes, N., O’Toole, L. & Halpenny, A. (2017) Introducing Bronfenbrenner: a guide for practitioners and students in early years education, New York: Routledge:

Note: this text is available as an ebook through the James Hardiman Library at NUI Galway.

1.4.3 Educational Theories of John Dewey

The image of the child as an active learner who brings their own life’s experiences and knowledge to the classroom was central to the educational philosophy of John Dewey (1859 – 1952). Reading Dewey’s work and the writings of those that have studied him, it is hard to believe he developed his ideas over a century ago and that they still influence education today. Although Dewey focused on the primary classroom, his ideas are relevant within Irish early years settings.

Learning Activity IconLearning Activity 1.6

As you read about Dewey’s ideas, consider the approaches to ECEC where you see his influence. Select two curriculum models or approaches that stand out to you; find a minimum of three characteristics of each approach that reflect Dewey’s philosophy.

According to Weiss et al. (2005), Dewey’s philosophy was based on ‘the premise that children are growing and changing beings that require active learning experiences of immediate interest and personal involvement to learn’ (p. 5). This quote is frequently cited in the literature, as it sums up Dewey’s views very well (see Dodd-Nufrio, 2011; Hanganu, 2015). Central to Dewey’s educational philosophy are the following aspects:

  • Children have innate capacities to communicate, inquire and construct, considered their ‘natural resources’.
  • Children bring a wealth of ‘raw material’ to the classroom – their interests and experiences.
  • By thinking through and solving a problem, children create their own knowledge.
  • The skills of the educator are crucial; their role is to connect the subjectmatter of the curriculum to children’s interests and experiences, or the ‘raw material’ they bring with them.

Our image of the child informs how, what and why we do the things we do in early years settings day after day. If we follow Dewey’s views, we create a context in which children are both ‘participants and beneficiaries’ in designing curriculum and exploring knowledge that will inform it, alongside the educator (Hanganu, 2015, p. 10). In other words, children and educators co-construct knowledge, based on their interests, and the results will inform the development of the curriculum. Does this sound familiar to you?

Complementing his belief that ‘children are architects of their own learning’, (DoddNufrio, 2011, p. 236) Dewey stressed that educational institutions are sites of democracy. Dewey felt the traditional approach to education, where knowledge was taught by rote, benefitted the rich; these approaches reinforced social class distinctions. In contrast to this, if we create an environment that encourages the child’s innate capacities, then their interests and motivation to learn are enhanced, creating what he considered a ‘democratic classroom’. Such a setting values the diversity of children’s lives. According to Dewey, ‘democratic social arrangements promote a better quality of human existence’ (Dewey, 1938, as cited by Weiss et al., 2005, p. 6).

Section 1.5 The Child as Rights Bearer

In Year 2 of this course you examined the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN, 1989) from a legal perspective. Ireland ratified the Convention in 1992. You looked at the various principles of the Convention and how they have informed developments here in Ireland. You considered how they are connected to early years practice.

You are now asked to think about children’s rights in light of what you have explored from a sociological perspective on children and childhood, and the theoretical perspectives that we examined above. Let’s start with the concept of ‘competent’.

Recall the critiques of the developmental approach and the concept of the ‘universal child’. This perspective was said to be focused on the child as object, as passive and immature, irrational, the focus of adult activity that was directed towards developing the child along an accepted path towards adulthood. Adulthood promised maturity and competence (James et al., 1998). The child’s inferior status and adult control and power over children seems reasonable from this perspective.

The alternative emerging social construction of the child, in contrast, is interested in the child here and now, the present being of the child, rather than focusing on how the child will be at some time in the future. Quennerstedt & Quennerstedt (2014) describe this as ‘the child being released from the “result” of development’ (p. 123) and being viewed as ‘complete human beings in their own right’ (p. 121), as active in their current lives and as part of society in their current condition as child.

However, the concept of the child as a rights bearer has not necessarily translated into practice in ECEC settings, which should be particularly careful to protect and promote these rights (Woodhead, 2006). Indeed, if we ask what we mean when we speak of a child’s rights, of children as having agency, we must question in what ways we support children to demonstrate that agency in the pursuit of their own rights.

As you work through the remaining units in this module, consider your practice and your understanding of children’s learning from a rights perspective. Consider: opportunities for consultation with children, listening to their voice, their participation in their early years settings, and how you respect their views.

Reflective Point 1.5

Children’s rights can be explored at a macro level, if we consider particular polices. An example is the recent Access and Inclusion Model in early years, and how that is ensuring the rights of all children to partake in the Universal ECCE Scheme. At a micro level we can analyse our own practice. For example, if we are involved in an ECCE programme, what actions do we take to ensure a particular child is supported through the AIM programme. Alternatively, we can look at the special education and care needs of a younger child, under 3 years, and examine whether this child’s rights are being fulfilled. What gaps are there at a macro/policy level in regards to children’s rights to education?


Learning Activity IconLearning Activity 1.7

The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (OAV, 1990) states that ‘Every child shall have responsibility towards his family and society’, with terms such as duty, respect, and assistance used to describe the expectations on how children will be. You can find the Charter here: http://www.achpr.org/files/instruments/child/achpr_instr_charterchild_eng.pdf

Access the UNCRC here: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx

Read through these documents and compare/contrast their messages. What aspects of the African Charter resonate with you? What aspects challenge your views on childhood? Do both messages fit within your construct of children’s rights?


Reflective Point 1.6

As you read through these documents consider how the varying discourses of childhood are reflected in each; consider the cultural, societal, economic and other influences that inform these discourses. Consider this in light of a sociological understanding of childhood and Corsaro’s key concepts (see above): the child with agency, the child who contributes to adult societies, that childhood is a structural form, and that it is socially constructed.


Section 1.6 Early Learning in the Irish Context

The field of Early Childhood Education and Care is an area of practice, in which you are involved. But ECEC is also an academic discipline, an area of research and of theorising, through which our ideas about children and their learning are open to changing and to adapting. Within the Irish context, we have shifted from a time where developmental theories held sway, to a point now where we see the child as a ‘competent and confident learner’ at the centre of our national curriculum framework. This is clearly informed by sociological thinking.

As an Early Years Educator, developing your own ‘image of the child’, or constructing your own perspective, is crucial to how you approach your work. The manner in which you articulate your approach to pedagogy, how your consider curriculum planning, whether the adult initiates all activities, whether the child’s interests inform the planning, how the planning is recorded, with whom it is shared and the manner in which you reflect on your practice, should all stem from your own philosophical beliefs.

Through this unit, learners will hopefully challenge their previously-held views, or deconstruct these perspectives, and then reconstruct their positions concerning children, childhood, learning and early years practice, in an informed and reflective manner.

Section 1.7 Social Constructivist Theories

The sociological shift from positivism to interpretivism provides a perspective on how we consider children and childhood. In your exploration of Sociology in Learning Activity 1.2, you encountered a number of underpinning ‘paradigms’ that further explain various strands of sociological thinking. Social constructivism is one such strand falling under the interpretivist perspective. It is helpful for analysing various theories and theorists related to early education.

Learning Activity IconLearning Activity 1.8

The link below offers a good summary of constructivist and social constructivist theories, showing the differences between them, and highlighting key theorists and their ideas. It provides a useful review of this material before you move on to the other units in this module.


As you work through the remaining units in this module, keep in mind the various theoretical perspectives, and note the ones that resonate with you. Use these to develop your own philosophy of early learning. In Unit 3 we will revisit some of these theories and perspectives, and highlight their relevance to the development of your understanding of early years practice, particularly in the contemporary and evolving Irish context.

Section 1.8 Unit Review

This unit reviews key theories of childhood learning which underpin the new sociology of childhood. The focus has shifted from the developmental view of the child as an empty vessel waiting passively to be filled with knowledge poured into them by adults, to recognising the child as a competent learner, with a rich store of experiences, and coming from a cultural context which impacts their approach to learning. The theories of Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner and Bronfenbrenner, in particular, played a role in underpinning the new sociology of childhood and our new appreciation for how best to support child learning in early years practice.

This unit acts as an introduction to the remaining units in the module. You are encouraged to go back and revise previous modules of the course referred to above, and to have a good grasp of the range of theories of childhood learning discussed in this unit.

Section 1.9 Self-Assessment Questions

  1. The developmental perspective of the young child considers a ‘universal child’ progressing through the same stages of development, with pre-set milestones. This view falls within the positivist paradigm, seeking the singular truth about phenomenon. The goal of the educator is to move the child through these stages, towards competency. How does this contrast to the sociological perspective of the child?
  2. What are the two key concepts central to understanding the new sociology of childhood?
  3. From a sociological perspective, there are any number of ‘structural forms’ that assist us to understand society, groups and individuals. These ‘forms’ are created by the ‘discourses’ around them, or the debates, discussions, influences and other factors which will impact on how we understand the form. What are some common structural forms’?
  4. Explain the debate over being and becoming, and the key message from post-developmental theory.
  5. What are the key ideas underpinning socio-cultural theories of early learning?
  6. What is the PPCT Concept? Briefly describe each aspect.
  7. List the four key elements of Dewey’s educational philosophy.

Section 1.10 Answers to Self-Assessment Questions

1. The sociological perspective constructs the child as already competent, with agency, being capable of initiating their own learning, based on interests that hold meaning for them. The role of the educator is to come to know each unique child, to observe and become aware of their interests and use this knowledge to build a meaningful curriculum. This approach sits with the interpretivist paradigm that considers the multiple truths, the many stories that can explain a particular phenomenon.

2. According to Corsaro (2018) these two concepts are:

a. ‘First, children are active creative agents who produce their own unique children’s culture while simultaneously contributing to the production of adult societies’ (p. 3).

b. ‘Second, childhood – that socially constructed period in which children live their lives – is a structural form’ (p. 3).

3. Some common ‘structural forms’ are childhood, adulthood, adolescence, gender – male /female, and the emerging non-binary, woman, girl, boy, man, socio-economic status, etc.

4. Becoming is said to be the focus on developmental theories – focusing on who the child will become in adulthood. Being is said to be the focus of sociological theorists, as they are interested in children’s daily lived experiences. Post-developmentalists urge us not to think about either /or, the being/becoming, but to consider both. Children are developing, are becoming and we can be aware of that while we come to understand the rich period of childhood they are currently experiencing. As we explore new perspectives, such as the sociology of childhood, we can still draw on developmental theories where and when they assist us to understand children, their lives and their learning processes, critically reflecting on any and all perspectives we are working with.

5. Socio-cultural theories of early learning highlight the social context of learning and how this impacts on children. Learning is seen as a collaborative process, involving other children, relevant adults, and the social and material environment. Interactions, language, relationships all influence the learning processes; these should be collaborative, purposeful and be meaningful for the child to be of benefit. Opportunities for reciprocity, the back-and-forth interplay, sharing of ideas, and mutual respect among learners, or co-constructors of knowledge, create rich learning contexts.

6. As Uri Bronfenbrenner developed his theories of child development, he shifted from stressing the context of learning to considering wider factors that impact on learning. The PPCT concept stands for:

Process – the proximal processes or interactions, interrelationships, activities and behaviours that occur between a child and those around them.

Person – this element refers to the individual, their dispositions, characteristics, capacities, and resources.

Context reflects Bronfenbrenner’s original four systems – micro, meso, exo and macro systems, and the impact of each on the child, and the child’s impact on these.

Time is captured in the chronosystem – this is concerned with the historical or macro-time in which a child is living, the opportunities within a child’s routine, or the meso-time and the immediate time in which a child is, and what is occurring in the moment, or the micro-time.

7. The following points are key to Dewey’s educational philosophy:

a. Children have innate capacities to communicate, inquire and construct, considered their ‘natural resources’

b. Children bring a wealth of ‘raw material’ to the classroom – their interests and experiences

c. By thinking through and solving a problem, children create their own knowledge

d. The skills of the educator are crucial; their role is to connect the subject-matter of the curriculum to children’s interests and experiences, or the ‘raw material’ they bring with them

Section 1.11 References

Brady, G., Lowe, P. & Lauritzen, S.O. (2015) ‘Connecting a sociology of childhood perspective to the study of child health, illness and wellbeing: Introduction’, Sociology of health & illness, 37, pp.173–183.

Brodie, K. (2014) ‘Developing sustained shared thinking to enhance the areas of learning and development – prime areas’, Teaching and learning, November. Available at: https://eyfs.info/articles.html/teaching-and-learning/developingsustained-shared-thinking-to-enhance-the-areas-of-learning-and-development-–prime-areas-r179/

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